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Ukraine, Peachtree Corners Connected by Family, Ministry

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Peachtree Corners Business Association donates $500 to Mission To The World at its March 31 Business After Hours Speaker Series. Pictured from left: PCBA Secretary Donna Linden, PCBA President Lori Proctor and Cartee Bales, Senior Director of Field Operations for Gwinnett County-based Mission To the World.

Resident recounts anguish of family fleeing war-torn country; non-profit shares details of mission work.

With the continued war in Ukraine, people all over the world are concerned about the fate of civilians who are finding themselves as collateral damage in Russia’s push to control the country. Many, however, have family and other loved ones still in Ukraine or struggling to find refuge in other countries.

One Peachtree Corners resident, Alan Kaplan, has been active on social media and other platforms educating his neighbors about the challenges. Most recently, he spoke to members and guests of the Peachtree Corners Business Association (PCBA) at its Business After Hours Speakers Series.

Alan Kaplan

Kaplan’s in-laws are Ukrainian citizens. When the first attack occurred, the family had been prepared to leave their home in Kyiv, but so were thousands of others.

“I remember my wife Zhenia telling my sister-in-law to go and pack,” Kaplan told the crowd of nearly 50 attendees. “They thought it was an overreaction but about March 3, my sister-in-law (Irina) and my handicapped 14-year-old niece (Veronika) went to board a train for a 14-hour train ride to a western city in Ukraine.”

The crush of people was so great, his brother-in-law (Valentine) lifted the girl above the throng and waded through to get his wife and daughter on the train.

Kaplan’s mother-in-law (Lubov), who wasn’t ready to abandon her home, was convinced three days later to get on a bus out of the country. Fortunately for her, she missed the initial bus because what normally took 30 minutes from her house to get to this location was kind of tricky. It took three hours due to all the road checks and the traffic.

“The initial bus just dropped people at the border and you’d end up on another type of bus where they were distributed, typically to Romania or to different places,” said Kaplan.

“But the bus she ended up on was sponsored by a synagogue. And it went from one synagogue in Kyiv all the way to the capital of Moldova. So rather than being in a large evacuation refugee center, she ended up sharing a room with three other people in one of the classrooms in the synagogue.”

Although his mother-in-law was safe, the family didn’t have consistent communication with her, so they had no idea where she was. She was at the synagogue for 10 days.

“We knew that she was getting on a bus. We didn’t know where she would end up. We didn’t know where she was going,” Kaplan said. “Thankfully, we were able to keep in touch periodically by cell phone.”

Mass evacuations

Kaplan explained that at the time, the U.S. had no established refugee status for Ukrainians. Of course, his 82-year-old mother-in-law was welcomed to live with his family, but it wasn’t that simple.

“The United States still doesn’t have a good process in place to bring refugees here, particularly refugees with family members here,” he said. “We can sponsor them, bring them here and take care of them, but that really wasn’t in place, much less any social programs.”

Once in Moldova, Lubov was in contact with an Israeli consulate. “We were able to get her visa and the opportunity to go to Israel,” said Kaplan.

After 30 days in Israel, Lubov was eligible to receive a place to stay social service benefits to help support her in her new life. “She’ll have some means to be able to take care of herself. And she’ll have other programs available to her,” Kaplan explained.

Once she’s established in Israel, she can visit family in the United States for many months at a time and the Kaplans can go there to see her.

“So thankfully she’s now stable and in a great place,” said Kaplan.

Irina and Veronika, Kaplan’s sister-in-law and niece, are still in western Ukraine.

“We’ve been talking with them about making a change because I don’t think any of us fully understand the future of Ukraine,” he said. “What’s been holding her up is that her husband, my brother-in-law, can’t leave for a couple of reasons.”

Besides the manifests—most Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 have been banned from leaving the country in anticipation that they may be called to fight—he has an elderly mother who is in extremely ill health and is in no condition to make the journey.

Kaplan teared up a little as he continued. “As difficult as this story is for my family personally, it’s one of the best stories there. Look at the people that are in the towns that can’t get out. They don’t have water. They don’t have electricity. That’s a true tragedy. We’re lucky.”

He added, “We’re grateful for everybody coming together in this situation. … I appreciate everybody’s care and focus on what’s going on.”

Besides Kaplan’s account of his family’s peril, PCBA invited Cartee Bales, Senior Director of Field Operations for Gwinnett County-based Mission To the World (MTW), to share his recent experiences after returning in late March from the Ukrainian region where he was providing compassionate relief for those impacted there.   

MTW Missionary Bob Burnham helped several families with rides to the border, but due to traffic, they had to walk up to 10 miles in the mud with luggage, pets and little children in tow, only to reach already packed borders with no bathroom facilities along the way, or food available, in near-freezing temps. The train stations are overrun with tens of thousands of people and sometimes the trains don’t show up. Courtesy MTW


Mission of compassion, caring

Bales said he was all too familiar with the tragedies suffered in Ukraine right now. He had returned to the U.S. less than a week before attending the PCBA event on Thursday, March 31.

“There is incredible suffering that’s taking place (in Ukraine) right now,” he said. “But it’s a beautiful heartbreak because so many people are engaging to help rescue people and to help them begin to rebuild their lives.”

As an arm of the Presbyterian Church in America, Mission To The World has 600-plus people working at countries throughout the world.

“We’re doing everything from training pastors and starting seminaries and planting churches to running large AIDS/HIV clinics, running anti-sex trafficking programs… and a number of other things that address suffering in the world,” said Bales.

Ukraine is now one of those places, as people stream out from ground and missile attacks. Even though, unlike Kaplan, his family isn’t personally affected, it still takes a toll on the human spirit.

Bales said it’s heartbreaking to see “the flow of people with their one (suitcase)—and that’s if they’re allowed to take their possessions,” he said.

He saw them not only in Ukraine but also wandering the streets of places like Bucharest, Krakow and Warsaw, having escaped the war, but not knowing the next chapter of their fate.

“We’ve had teams working in the region in Ukraine and Russia for decades. And when Russia invaded Ukraine, which was unexpected until it finally happened, we began forming caravans of people in their cars—and in any kind of vehicle—to go together,” he said.

Because of rationing, each motorist was allowed only three liters of petrol a day—that’s less than a gallon. And the journey out of the country or to a safer part of the country was often hours away.

“By the time we get to a border crossing, it’s nine to 12 hours in line just to get across,” Bales added.

Pastor Ivan in the Kyiv region said his area was one of the first to be attacked. Immediately, the life and ministry of the church were completely redefined and reformed. Although many members of the church had to evacuate to a safe place, part of the church remained in Kyiv. MTW continues to distribute humanitarian aid and deliver food and medicine to those in need. For several Sundays after the invasion, worship was limited to online sermons and devotion at home. Finally, on Sunday, April 10, the church managed to get together for a worship service in the building of the ERSU Seminary. Courtesy MTW

Homeless refugees

Bales’ team made it into Lviv and rented every space they could find in every house and every hotel. They discovered that many who fled left keys to their home with a note saying anyone was welcome to use it.

“We’ve been fortunate to take advantage of that,” said Bales. “And those were just temporary stops. Because people then need to get out of the way. So our teams in Krakow have been getting supplies that are needed in Ukraine.”

And the vans aren’t just delivering supplies; they are also evacuating people who want to leave.

“It’s beautiful to see how the world is coming together, standing there on the border and seeing Israel and Ireland and India and USA and all these countries with hot food and clothes, a safe shelter for women and children, and toys for kids just to help them begin rebuilding what’s been lost,” said Bales.

To help keep the mission going, PCBA donated $500 to MTW and included a one-year membership to the association.

“When we have these opportunities for things that go beyond our business networking, it reinforces these relationships that were built out of business. Our professional relationships are as much about the people as they are about the businesses, and I’ve never seen a business succeed without community,” said PCBA President Lisa Proctor.

That’s why she was excited to bring Kaplan and Bales to the mixer. She wanted to emphasize that the community is just around the corner as well as half a world away.

Information about PCBA: peachtreecornersba.com

Information about Mission To The World’s involvement in Ukraine: mtw.org/ukraine-crisis.

Arlinda Smith Broady is part of the Boomerang Generation of Blacks that moved back to the South after their ancestors moved North. With approximately three decades of journalism experience (she doesn't look it), she's worked in tiny, minority-based newsrooms to major metropolitans. At every endeavor she brings professionalism, passion, pluck, and the desire to spread the news to the people.

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Twin Authors Chronicle Antics of ‘Four-Legged Brother’

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On Feb. 1, the young authors Megan and Mackenzie Grant released the children’s book, “How We Love Our Four-Legged Brother.”
Megan and Mackenzie Grant

Berkeley Lake second graders make fans across the globe with sweet children’s story.

When rescue dog Apollo found his forever home with Megan and Mackenzie Grant, the Berkeley Lake twins knew they had added a special member to the family. He’s so beloved that he’s considered their “four-legged brother.”

Apollo is a Boston terrier. The breed is known for its friendliness and love of people and children. According to the Purina Company, makers of all kinds of pet food, Boston terriers  make affectionate pets and are outgoing and social. 

While they are called ‘terriers,’ they are not in the terrier group, nor do they behave like them. They are far happier at home with their owner than getting into the usual mischief. 

But Megan and Mackenzie see him as a silly addition to the family.

“He’s super cool because he’s always up for fun and loves us a whole bunch. And guess what? We love him back even more! He’s like the best friend ever, wagging his tail and making everything awesome!” they said in a press release.

Apollo’s birthday inspiration

As his first birthday approached, the girls, six years old at the time, wanted his day to be special.

“I said, ‘Well if you want to come up with something to do, let’s write it out,’” said mom Tameka Womack.  “So they started writing out all these different adventures, and it was so cute.”

Megan recalled that their teacher had told them about someone who had published a book, and she asked if they could, too.

“When I read through it, they had all the different things, like playing dress up because we had bought some clothes for him. And we take them out for long walks around the lake and stuff,”  Womack added.

Although their favorite subjects in school are PE and art, they did such a good job with the tale that Tameka worked with them to get it published. On Feb. 1, the young authors released the children’s book, “How We Love Our Four-Legged Brother.”

Publishing success

The 30-page book took off almost immediately. Available for print and digital through Amazon and print editions through Barnes & Noble, the book has reached customers in the U.K., Germany, France, Japan, Canada, Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy,  Poland and throughout the U.S.

The girls and their mom were so pleased and surprised to find out the book was No. 1 in its category on Amazon.

“They were just so excited that people actually bought the book,” said Womack. “They were just like, ‘Wow, who is buying this?’”

Feedback from fellow twins, animal lovers and teachers showed that the story resonated on many levels.

“As an educator, I am always on the lookout for diverse and inclusive literature for my students. ‘How We Love Our Four-Legged Brother’ not only captivated the imaginations of the children in my class but also served as a wonderful conversation starter about friendship, empathy and the beauty of diversity,” wrote Ashleigh Darby.

The royalties from book sales are tucked away, with a percentage going to Apollo’s wardrobe.

“He won’t go out in the rain without his raincoat … or out in the winter without his sweater,” said Womack. “We have a little budget for his clothes because every time the girls see something, they’re like, ‘Oh, I think Apollo will like it.’  I’m like, I think he would too, but let’s let it stay in the store.”

Nurturing creativity

Although both mom and dad are engineers and kind of hoped that the twins would follow in their footsteps, Womack said she’s okay with them being artistic and creative.

“Writing is teaching them some responsibility and teaching them a little bit about money,” she said. “Now they want to write a book every day.”

Between raising three daughters (the twins have an older teenage sister), running a household with her husband and keeping up with her career at Georgia Tech, Womack said she’ll look for time to continue helping the girls with their dreams.

“With summer coming up, I would definitely encourage parents to help their children explore their creativity in any kind of way, from digging holes in the ground to … seeing the world … to creating books instead of being on the internet,” said Womack. I try to limit my kids’ screen time … and build real memories.”

Find “How We Love Our Four-Legged Brother” on Amazon.

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Local State Reps Give Roundup of Legislative Session

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(left to right) Dale Russell, Rep. Ruwa Romman and Rep. Scott Hilton // Photos by George Hunter

Hilton, Romman trade friendly banter that reflects diverse views in Georgia government

Georgia State House District 97 Representative Ruwa Romman and District 48 Representative Scott Hilton, whose constituents include parts of Southwest Gwinnett County, including Peachtree Corners, sat down for a second time to share information about legislative action at the State Capital

Their discussion was part of the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce First Friday Breakfast series at Atlanta Hilton Northeast.

Although they sit on opposite sides of the aisle, Hilton and Romman both seek to sponsor and pass legislation that improves and maintains a high quality of life in the Peach State and provides its residents with what they need. 

Elected in 2022, this was Romman’s sophomore year in the State House. She serves on the Georgia House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee, Georgia House Information and Audits Committee and Georgia House Interstate Cooperation Committee. 

Hilton previously served in the State House from 2017 to 2019 but took a “sabbatical,” as he calls it, to serve as executive director for the Georgians First Commission under the Office of Governor Brian Kemp

He was re-elected to his current position in 2022. He is the vice chair of the Georgia House Creative Arts and Entertainment Committee and the Georgia House Education Committee, as well as a member of the Georgia House Public Health Committee and the Committee on Georgia House Urban Affairs.

Senate Bill 63

The moderator, Norcross resident and former WAGA political reporter Dale Russell started off with a topic making headlines: Senate Bill 63. This law, signed by Gov. Kemp shortly after the session ended, prohibits charities, individuals or groups from providing bail funds for more than three people per year unless they register as bonding agencies. It also expands mandatory cash bail to 30 new offenses.

“I think it’s going to bring home safety to the community,” said Hilton. “I ran on that issue because as I was knocking on doors, I’ve heard from folks who [want to] keep our community safe. And unfortunately, no community has been immune from the uptick in crime that we had seen post-COVID, so this was one of those bills in response to that.”

Hilton gave examples of crimes where individuals out on bail committed acts such as murder.

“That was our commitment back to our constituents to say, ‘Listen, we’re not going to let bad guys back out onto the streets again to do more crime.’ This bill was in response to this; it’s going to keep our community safe, hold those accountable and bring justice to those who break the law,” Hilton remarked. 

“Unfortunately, right now, we’ve got district attorneys and sheriffs across Georgia who are blatantly disregarding the law and letting folks back out on the streets who pose, you know, safety risks to law-abiding citizens like you and I and your businesses,” he continued.

Russel pointed out that there’s been a lot of criticism of this law. 

“The ACLU was totally against it. Some felt like it was imprisoning poor people in the sense, for minor crimes,” he said.

“I do agree with the criticism for a few reasons,” said Romman. 

“The problem with this bill is that of the 30 crimes that are listed as now requiring a cash bail, the majority of them don’t actually require jail time, even if you’re found guilty of them. So now, somebody who would not even have ever served time for those crimes that are listed could now serve jail time because they cannot afford their bail,” she explained.

She added that the law doesn’t address the crimes it’s supposed to protect citizens from.

“We see these headlines, but this bill doesn’t address those because what we see happening is that a lot of churches now will no longer be able to bail people out that cannot afford their bail because of this bill,” she said.

“And churches that have been trying to, for example, reunite a parent with their children for Christmas, or whatever the case may be, can no longer do that. There is actually an exception written into this bill for bail bondsmen. So, it’s not like being able to pay cash bail is completely out of the question. It just means that somebody can make money off of it now,” Romman continued.

Hilton said the state isn’t done with addressing public safety issues as they come up.

“I know that’s been a priority of the governor, and I think rightfully so; you know, there’s a reason we’ve got citizens flocking to Georgia over the last ten years; we’ve added a million Georgians to our state, and they are leaving states with policies that don’t have this. They’re coming to Georgia for economic prosperity, for safety and for good schools,” said Hilton.

House Bill 1105

Another controversial bill, HB 1105, is framed as a public safety bill that requires local enforcement to coordinate with federal immigration officials when someone in custody is suspected of being in the country illegally. 

Some say it’s an immigration bill.

“I know that the federal administration is trying to tell us there’s not a crisis. But there is a humanitarian crisis going on right now on our southern border.  … But they’re not handling it the right way, and it’s starting to impact our communities,” said Hilton.

“We’ve got sheriffs who have folks in their custody, who [need] to be reported up to ICE. And essentially, they’re sort of ignoring what’s in the law right now that says you got to report these folks,” he explained.

Romman doesn’t see it that way.

“Again, when you read the contents of the bill, that is, unfortunately, not what it does,” she said. “I’m one of the few, if not the only, member of the legislature that’s done any border project work,” she remarked.

She talked about her work keeping unaccompanied immigrant minors safe.

“I want to remind people that when we talk about immigration, there’s an entire spectrum of people that we are talking about. And it’s not just at the border, it’s also people that fly into our country legally, that gets narrowed into a terrible immigration system,” Romman said.

“It forces our state and county and city police to do federal-level work without more funding. What we’re doing is we’re actually adding an increased burden, essentially onto their workload that we are not paying for. And in addition, within this bill, if they do not do this, they could lose more funding.”

She added that this will take the police away from focusing on local issues and trying to work with people who live in their communities.

“If a community member feels like if they reach out to police for help, and the police are going to deport them, they are less likely to report crimes and less likely to work with our local police department,” Romman said. “If we’re serious about immigration and its relationship to crime, immigrants are 30% less likely to commit crimes, and I don’t want to vilify an entire group of people.”

Romman said she supports a holistic, three-pronged approach that includes improving conditions on the border and pathways to citizenship.

Business-related legislation

When the smoke cleared, both Hilton and Romman joked that they had different opinions about many issues but agreed that’s a healthy part of how the government works. 

“The fact that we do disagree and the fact that you, the community, have varying choices and options out there. I think it’s a healthy part of the process,” said Hilton. “And we do have fun. I was telling somebody we play kickball about halfway through the session, and we do get along.”

The discussion moved on to topics such as the FTC ruling on non-compete clauses and tort reform, which just about everyone in the room agreed upon. Although employees could see the beauty of disallowing non-compete clauses, as business owners, they’d hate to see trade secrets put in jeopardy or valuable time and money put into training to benefit another company. 

And everyone wanted to see caps on personal injury claims for things like slip-and-falls and fleet vehicle accidents.

“One of the few regrets I have coming out of session is that we didn’t do more on tort reform,” said Hilton. “Right now, Georgia is the number one judicial hellhole in the nation, meaning that we have more lawsuits on businesses and payouts than anywhere else in the country.”

This was one area where both representatives had similar views.

“I don’t think this is a left or right issue,” said Romman. “I want to make sure that whatever tort reform we pursue does not let, for example, a bad-acting company off the hook. But on the flip side, if somebody is just going around and suing everybody all the time to try and make some money off of it, how do you protect corporations and businesses from those kinds of bad incidents litigation?”

“What I will continue to look for when it comes to tort reform is, how are we going about balancing that?” she added.

Looking ahead

As the session wrapped, Romman and Hilton pointed out legislation they’d like to see move forward next year.

“House Bill 971 creates a $300 tax credit for taxpayers who sign up for firearm safety training or purchase a safe storage device. It’s a bipartisan measure, viewed by some as a small but perhaps significant move for gun safety advocates, which was tabled in the Senate room,” said Romman. 

She said the bill wouldn’t even require someone to disclose that they owned a firearm, but it was meant to incentivize people to store their firearms properly.

“There wasn’t a lot of appetite if somebody didn’t properly store their gun to have consequences for that, so we thought it would just incentivize better behavior,” she said.

Hilton mentioned school safety. 

“Over the last three years, every single school in Georgia has gotten a one-time $100,000 grant for School Safety. That’s every school in Georgia; in this most recent budget, we included $45,000 in recurring money for every school in the state to do whatever they want to ensure their campuses are safe,” he said. This includes private schools as well.

At the end of the event, Hilton and Romman reminded the audience that they weren’t running against each other, and even though their views were different, their goals for a better Georgia were equally as passionate.

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City of Peachtree Corners Unveils Space-Inspired Tot Lot Playground

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Last November, the city began constructing a new tot lot playground for children under six years old that is themed around space exploration. 
Photos by Dorie Liu

On Friday, May 10, 2024, the City of Peachtree Corners held a ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony of its new space-themed Tot Lot Playground on Town Green.

Last November, the city began constructing a new tot lot playground for children under six years old that is themed around space exploration.  This new play area includes a rocket ship, a moon rover, a crashed UFO and other fun designs. It was also created to be fully accessible, ensuring all children can enjoy it.

During the ribbon-cutting, children and their guardians enjoyed fun activities, including an ice cream truck, bubble lady, balloon animals, face painting and even a visit from Buzz Lightyear.

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